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RATING & REVIEWING LSU'S 2024 DEFENSIVE HIRES: IS BRIAN KELLY BUILDING HIS CHAMPIONSHIP STAFF?

Updated: Jan 19

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By LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN


Since LSU Head Coach Brian Kelly now has 2024's defensive staff in place, it's time to really dive deep into the new staff, including our own personal takes on each new coaching arrival.

Immediately following LSU's bowl game win over Wisconsin, many analysts, experts & fans expected Kelly to retain last year's historically awful defense; Instead, BK surprised and delighted LSU fans by cleaning house, pun fully intended, making his intentions clear when LSUOdyssey broke the news on former defensive coordinator Matt House's departure, followed by the release of safeties coach Kerry Cooks, cornerbacks coach Robert Steeples, and DL Coach Jimmy Lindsey.


Though I didn't agree with the ouster of Lindsey (who was never able to coach a down due to a health emergency & recovery), feeling last year's failures had more to do with House than anyone, it is still undeniable the Tigers are now ready for a fresh start & a clean slate in the wake of their departures....a revival fronted by what many around college football are calling a "dream staff".

Kelly started off the process by bringing in 2021 LSU linebackers coach and Mizzou DC Blake Baker to lead the new defensive era. Baker was a popular choice among the fanbase, and the announcement of his hire generated an overwhelming amount of fanfare.

What happened next would be the most critical part of the hiring process:

It wasn't going to be enough for LSU to just bring in an ace coordinator, Kelly needed to fill his sideline with the best of the best if he wanted to truly stake a claim in 2024's Saban-less, Oklahoma + Texas-infused SEC landscape.
Kelly did just that, so far fleshing out his defensive staff with coaches that possess bona fide development & recruiting star power....names & faces Baker knows and trusts.

Kelly's LSU made a remarkable statement of intent when signing longtime target Bo Davis, the now former Texas DL coach and Tiger alum is widely regarded as one of the best DL coaches in America.

AD Scott Woodward assisted Kelly in the pursuit & eventual hire of the highly prized Louisiana-born assistant, raising his annual earnings by $250,000 ($1.25 million per season on a 3 year contract) to get the deal over the line.

More help came to the ailing D-line and Jack LB crew when Broyles Award nominee Kevin Peoples arrived to coach the edge rushers.

The former Mizzou assistant worked under DC Blake Baker and as LSUOdyssey reported 9 days ago here, Peoples was a core part of Baker's staff vision from the outset.

Bringing on board yet another Louisiana and college football coaching icon in DBs impresario Corey Raymond, LSU are pushing hard to restore their proud DBU past, a recent history Raymond helped establish from 2012-2021.

And now, finishing off the defensive staff with a wild card choice, 2021 LSU LBs analyst Jake Olsen returns to LSU after 2 seasons away (much like Baker & Raymond) to lead the safeties room, a move which will be Olsen's first on-field coaching position on resume.

Below, we get into the finer details on each coaching hire.

BLAKE BAKER

(Def. Coordinator/LBs Coach)


A strong hire on paper & in personality, Baker may not be able to turn LSU's 107th ranked 2023 defense into a blockbuster top 10 outfit in only 8 months' time, but the Tulane alum holds the right mentality and philosophy to ignite LSU's best defensive playmakers while markedly improving the overall unit.

Following a season where his Mizzou defense ranked among the SEC's best (holding opponents to 20.8 points per game, led by 3 All-SEC selections), Baker's hire is already exciting current players and recruiting prospects, voicing their love of the coach via social media: multiple incoming freshmen, prospects or current Tigers talked about how Baker was the "first coach to extend a scholarship offer" their way.


This belief in young men and positive energy is exactly what Matt House drained from his unit throughout a wretched, embarrassing 13 game stretch, nearly breaking the will of his own players by repeating the same doomed personnel & scheme right off a cliff...over and over...

In comparison, Baker will no doubt supply a clean slate vibe among LSU's defensive unit, a group aching for positivity, growth and as much distance as possible from the psychotic defensive display of 2023. Although Baker should imbue his players with positive encouragement, he also must use 2023's error-riddled, foul effort-filled film as teaching medicine for the future.

I'm certain LSU's new defensive coordinator will have meetings alongside his players, gathering their input as far as their roles within next season's defense, before going to the drawing board and dialing up his vision for this coming fall.

LSU's defense can only get better from here...Baker can only improve upon last season's brand damage caused by Matt "Captain Ahab" House.....but if Baker is to truly succeed in the long-term, he will need to ratchet up the intensity & expectations of his players far more than bringing about the aforementioned good vibes.


HIRE RATING

A


BO DAVIS

(D-Line)


Possibly the most important hire of them all thus far, Bo Freaking Davis is here.

Not only a former Tiger D-lineman coached & mentored by Pete Jenkins, Davis is a 3x National Champion, winning his first at LSU.

Receiving a ring as a notable part of Saban's 2003 National Championship staff (as assistant strength and conditioning coach under Tommy Moffitt), Davis then won two further National Championships and made his name once again on a Nick Saban staff, becoming his first Alabama hire in 2007 (Davis was Nick's first hire at the Miami Dolphins, too).

In his first stint at Alabama, Davis was a key component on staff, coaching a ferocious D-line which led the team to the 2009 BCS title (destroying the throwing shoulder of Texas' Heisman candidate QB Colt McCoy during the 1st quarter). Later during his second Alabama stint for the 2014 and 2015 seasons, Davis would take home a third following their win over Clemson.

At Alabama, Davis created an absolute D-Line recruiting machine, developing, recruiting & jettisoning among the SEC's best this century and beyond, Johnathan Allen, Daron Payne, Dont'a Hightower, Terrence Cody, Marcell Dareus, Courtney Upshaw among others.

Last year, Davis was a main reason Steve Sarkisian's Texas went to the College Football Playoff for the first time in program history, as Bo signed one 4 or 5 star recruit after another for the Longhorns, sealing his reputation as one of the best in the business.


As the Tigers faced their biggest D-line roster questions in years, for Athletic Director Scott Woodward and Head Coach Brian Kelly, Bo Davis was their D-line unicorn.....the man who could build the kingdom once again.

Already paying dividends, LSU's home run D-line hire will go a long way to repairing the damage around their DL room, let alone filling the necessary roster holes at defensive tackle & defensive end.

Plus, the Tigers have some notable young talents (red shirt freshmen Dashawn Womack, Jaxon Howard, JUCO transfer Shone Washington & Dylan Carpenter, plus true freshmen Gabe Reliford & Dominick McKinley) who will be all the more prepared & effective due to Bo's presence and expertise.

A coach who can bridge the gap, paper over the cracks, or coach em up until he births overlooked fringe squad men into stars, the 3x National Champion & perennial recruiting powerhouse was a "must hire" for Kelly. Sealing the deal excited damn near every freakishly gifted D-lineman in America...opening infinite transfer portal possibilities or recruiting moves ahead of Spring training & Signing Day.

HIRE RATING

A+


COREY RAYMOND

(DBs)


Much like current Tiger coaches Frank Wilson, Cortez Hankton, Joe Sloan, and Bo Davis, New Iberia native and former Tiger CB Corey Raymond returns to coach his home state school, aiming to position DBU back to its recent glory.

Returning after 2 seasons away at Florida, Raymond comes back to preside over the same DB room he led for 9 years (2012-2021), overseeing the recruiting & development of such super stars as Derek Stingley Jr, Tre'davious White, Donte Jackson, Jalen Mills, Kristian Fulton, Greedy Williams, Jalen Collins, among a host of others.


Although Raymond left on a sour note, gaining just 2 signings over his 2 final recruiting cycles (LT Welch & Damarius McGhee across 2022 & 2021), he's returning with a renewed fiery energy....and a deep cornerbacks room full of excited "students" for him to mould.

Most of LSU nation will be watching for Tigers like Sage Ryan, Javien Toviano, Ryan Yaites, and Ashton Stamps to take the next step in their development under the DBU Miyagi; However, there exists a segment of skeptical fans who are concerned about Raymond's current abilities to develop or recruit....some being "unimpressed" by the hire of a "Tiger retread", fearful that Kelly is searching for answers to the future by going backwards.

It is noteworthy to point out: just like defensive coordinator Blake Baker, the longtime DBU coach was ousted upon Kelly's late November 2021 arrival in Baton Rouge.

Will the move to bring back the longtime patron saint of LSU's DBU Golden Age pay dividends in 2024 and beyond? Will he be able to prove himself once & for all to LSU Nation, coaching up a secondary in dire need of improvement?
We'll find out soon enough.

HIRE RATING

B+


KEVIN PEOPLES

(Edge Rushers)


In a story broken by LSUOdyssey for our subscribers HERE, we forecasted the arrival of Mizzou assistant Kevin Peoples, a Blake Baker loyalist who raised his pedigree during a stirring defensive showing from his front last fall.

Honored as a Broyles Award nominee, Kevin Peoples was a "must" stowaway hire from Baker's prior staff, a coach LSU's new defensive coordinator "had to have" as someone who'll oversee the Tigers' edge rushers.

Where does this move leave 2023 Jack LBs Coach John Jancek, a former player under Kelly in 1989 and long serving staff member, now heading toward his 3rd season as a Tiger assistant?

Possibly holding just the special teams coordinator title, as both Baker and Peoples will work alongside one another coaching LBs and edge rushers.

Due to this move, it's apparent Baker has a vision for how his defensive unit will be coached throughout 2024, and the aggression, deception and multiple formation attack of 2022 and 2023 Mizzou's front seven will give you a good feel for how LSU might look under a Baker/Peoples defensive front....at least in tone....but keep in mind, there's also their collaboration with DL Mastermind Bo Davis, too....providing high potential for a dominant LSU front seven over the next few years.

HIRE RATING

A-


JAKE OLSEN

(Safeties)


Just announced today, former 2021 LSU LBs analyst Jake Olsen will become the Tigers' 2024 Safeties coach.

Spending the past two seasons coaching linebackers as an analyst aboard Blake Baker's Missouri staff, Olsen is a trusted assistant & much like Peoples, another Baker loyalist.

Although a midwesterner (North Dakota born), Olsen also carries extensive experience coaching inside the state of Louisiana. He was on staff at University of Louisiana-Monroe as well as Nicholls State before spending 4 seasons at Northwestern State. On top of that, Olsen was at LSU for another 1 season stint through 2021.

At LSU, Baker took a shine to his former Orgeron-era staffmate, hiring him on to his own crew at Missouri, and now ensuring his inclusion once again in Baton Rouge.

This is an intriguing move, as this will be Olsen's first on-field coaching gig during his career history......

Will he work alongside CBs Coach and DBs overseer Corey Raymond?

Has he ever coached the safeties position at the college level as an analyst?

Questions abound....yet it's good to know Olsen is a young gun possessed by a solid coaching demeanor & mindset......there may be issues at first or on-field / sideline coaching mistakes, but I think it'll be intriguing to watch how the former Tiger analyst grows into his new role.....I think there is some promise here, but it is not a guarantee.

It feels a tad like either Baker wanted to fit Olsen in somewhere and safety was open, he would be a cheap option, and so they went that direction, or maybe Olsen really does have what it takes to fulfill something different at that role and develop guys at the position.

Too early to honestly and objectively tell right now which it is.

HIRE RATING

C+



By LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN

©️ 2024 Uninterrupted Writings Inc

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Raymond is the wildcard for me. We will need to see if he is all in. His energy level and commitment to the path must be evident.

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